Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Meeting with Vogue Patterns

With Frank Rizzo and Kathy Wiktor

Table of contents:

Just an FYI. I wanted to sew today. I had my project all figured out, but I couldn't find the pattern that I bought at the Vogue booth yesterday. Instead, I spent the day writing this post. I have one more post I want to write about Puyallup, but this is the one that covers the reason for my being there - the visit with the folks at Vogue.

This is a LONG one, so here goes!

Disclaimer #1

I feel the need to include this statement because I heard rumblings that some folks think that maybe McCalls (whom I routinely refer to as "Vogue", as they produce McCalls, Butterick, Kwik Sew, and Vogue patterns under the McCalls banner) is trying to "buy me off" with this trip to Puyallup. So here's the full disclosure:

McCalls flew me to Puyallup to meet with them to discuss my blog post, to hear my opinions, and to fill me in on what they have been doing since the new President took over last May. I have the receipt for the airfare and it cost them $138. They did not offer to pay for accommodations, which is why I flew in and out of Seattle on the same day. They paid for my ground transportation from the airport to the show and back. They left a "McCalls" employee badge for me at Will Call (a show ticket costs $10 before the show, or $12 on the day of the show).

In the morning, Mr Rizzo bought me a mango lemonade at the show, as we talked in the Expo cafe area. At lunch, I was treated to a meal at the "Longhorn Steakhouse" booth (or some similar name). This vegetarian had a water, a side of baked beans, and a side of coleslaw. (The only meatless items on the menu, but I was quite satisfied.) In the afternoon, I was treated to a strawberry shortcake at the Scone booth.

That's it. No money was given to me. No gifts other than the travel and food I have listed. I purchased a pattern ($5) and a magazine ($3) in the McCalls booth, but I discovered that the pattern was left behind when I returned home, so I paid $8 (in effect) for the magazine. (That's ok, though I was a bit frustrated because I really wanted to sew that pattern IMMEDIATELY.)

McCalls has not "bought me off" and that was not their intention. If you know me well, you will know that I can be a fairly outspoken individual. I think that's what they wanted, and that's what they got.

I just wanted to clarify. :)

Structure of the Day

Here is a blow-by-blow summary of the day. I cover the topics we discussed in another section of this post.

Travel to Puyallup incurred some minor delays. San Francisco experienced some light rain, which seemed to befuddle air traffic. (I thought it was only car traffic in California that is befuddled by rain...) As a result, I arrived late to Seattle (it is a 2-hour flight) and the car picking me up was still later. Then the driver, who was hurrying to get me there, was pulled over and received an expensive speeding ticket.


When I arrived at Expo, I had a bit of trouble retrieving my badge from Will Call. It was not listed under my name. It was not listed under Vogue. It was not listed under McCalls. You'll never guess how it was listed. It was listed under "T" for "The McCalls". I later learned that this is the correct legal name, it's "THE McCalls Pattern Company", not "McCalls Pattern Company".

I did not know that.

Before the show.
(Photos courtesy of Vogue Pattern's Facebook page)

I finally arrived at THE McCalls booth (which involves walking across the fairgrounds to the cavernous ShowExpo building), where I was greeted by several members of the McCalls team - Frank Rizzo, President and CEO of McCalls, Carolyne Cafaro, Senior VP of Merchandising, Design, and Catalog, and Kathy Wiktor, Director of Retail and Consumer Promotion. I also met Gillian Conohan, Associate Editor of Vogue magazine, and a creative force in her own right. (She created the embellished top on the cover of the April/May 2014 issue.)

Carolyne Cafaro asked me to crop her face, but she was wearing this To.Die.For Sandra Betzina jacket that I wanted to share. This unlined jacket is made from Vogue 1385, a blouse pattern. This is the pattern I bought in the booth and planned to start sewing today. I really love it as a jacket! (You can see a clearer photo of this jacket on page 81 of the April/May 2014 issue of Vogue Pattern Magazine.)

Frank, Carolyn, and I went to the cafe to sit and chat. We talked until it was time for the Palmer/Pletsch Fashion Show, so the three of us went to watch. Inside, Kathy W and Gillian were saving seats for us. The show was well attended and featured a lot of clothing shown in the BMV catalogs, as well as self made clothing by Marta Alto (and modeled by Marta). There were also designs by Pati Palmer's daughter, Melissa Watson.

After the fashion show, the five of us went to lunch, talking all the while.

We returned to the McCalls booth, and Marcy and Katherine Tilton had stopped by.

I finally met Katherine Tilton in the flesh! (Though I felt like I knew her already.)

I met Kathy Marrone, Editor-in-Chief for Vogue Pattern Magazine, and James Bosco, Fashion Director. (He's the one who takes some of the fun pictures that he posts on the Vogue Facebook page, such as the recent pics of spring designs in the Saks windows.) I also met Chris Gill, Art Director (among other things, she oversees the photo shoots).

with Kathy Marrone, who is wearing a beautiful Sandra Betzina jacket that she made. (I am sorry I didn't get a picture of the back with a contrast insert! Notice the self fringe around the edge of the jacket? That is an ATTACHED fringe. And she MATCHED the PLAID. That is the determined person that is Kathy Marrone.)

By the way, I just noticed. Their sign really does say "THE McCALLS..."!

By the way, Kathy M, Kathy W, Gillian, and Chris all sew! When I returned from Marcy's booth with my bag of fabrics, they gathered around and asked to see. Yes, that's what sewers do. We share fabric porn.

It was time for the Tilton fashion show, which Frank and Carolyne had seen on Thursday. The fashion shows are held in another building on the fairgrounds, so I was grateful for a lovely, sunny day to be scooting between buildings.

Kathy M, James, and I walked with the Tiltons to the fashion show venue. This fashion show featured garments by both Tiltons, garments by Gwen Spencer and Nancy Murikami using Tilton patterns and fabrics, several garments by Gertie, and some dresses by a shop in Michigan that make formal dresses using "camouflage" fabrics.

After this fashion show, we went back to the McCalls booth to talk some more. Frank, Kathy M, Gillian, and I then went off for strawberry shortcake at the world-famous Scone booth. And we talked a lot more.

We returned to the booth, where more talking occurred. At this point I met Randy Peterson, VP of Manufacturing. He has been there (at the facility in Kansas where they produce the patterns) for 32 years, working his way from engineer to VP. I enjoyed talking to him about the weight of the pattern tissue (which has "lightened up" over the years and is now a much flimsier tissue which is much harder to print) and all the companies they print patterns for.

You probably know that they print patterns for Vogue, Butterick, Simplicity, and McCalls. You might even know that they print patterns for Louise Cutting and Sewing Workshop. But I bet you didn't know that they print patterns for SEVENTY different pattern lines and they do it with far fewer employees than they did years ago.

Randy Peterson

At this point, Frank became concerned that it was 4:30pm, and the Expo closes at 6pm, and I hadn't visited a single other booth.

He (kindly) shooed me out to look around. (Hey, it's not every day that I have Vogue executives at my beck and call.)

Given that I had very limited time, I headed straight for the 800 aisle, where Diane Ericson and the Tiltons had their booths. I first hit Diane's booth, where I ran into folks I know from various sewing retreats. Diane enthusiastically showed us some of her latest work, as well as some stenciled pieces that her son has been making and selling.

I'm telling you, the artistic apple didn't fall far from the tree. Diane had a largish basket which had been full of her son's stenciled pieces for sale, but by the time that I arrived there were maybe 2 or 3 pieces left - the sewing locusts enthusiasts had come and gone.

with Diane Ericson, who is wearing another masterpiece

Nearby was the Tilton's booth, where I happily reunited with Gwen (my roomie from DOL) and I was finally able to meet Nancy Murikami! Each one had some beautiful pieces in the Tilton fashion show, as well as the beautiful pieces they were wearing.

with Nancy Murikami and Gwen Spencer

with Katherine and Marcy Tilton

I quickly selected four fabrics to bring home and left behind an IOU for my first grandchild, because one of these fabrics is a very fancy coating with a very fancy price tag.

My fabric haul

Gwen, Marcy, and Katherine told me that I must check out the Professional Sewing Supply booth. Katherine had some items on hold there, so she and I walked over (to another building, also full of vendors). She is an Enabler Extraordinaire, that one. I went along just to see what they had and, next thing you know, I had spent $75 on Japanese fusible binding (both bias and straight grain), and on a set of the same Japanese sewing needles that (I was told) Susan Khalje uses.

Then Katherine took me to the dress form booth (Fashion Supplies, Inc), where she bought some really nice coated metal yardsticks. I had enough to lug home already (I was not checking any bags), so I did not buy anything, though I picked up flyers and business cards.

We walked back to the Showplex and I told Katherine that I wanted to see Louise Cutting's booth. I have never met Louise Cutting and I'd heard that she brought fabrics to this show, as well as her patterns. I have seen photos of the luscious fabrics that she brings to the shows closer to her Florida home (such as the Atlanta Expo). But, by the time we got to her booth, the sewing locusts enthusiasts had struck again, and there wasn't much fabric left. It was nice to finally meet Louise, who was looking elegant in a mustard-colored, boiled wool top made from (I believe) her Hearts A'Flutter pattern. (I've used that pattern myself.)

By this time, the Expo was about to close. I returned to the McCalls booth, bought my (now-missing) pattern and a magazine, recovered my stashed bags, and said goodbye and thank you to the nice McCalls folks.

While waiting for my ride back to the airport, I watched the herds of sewists as they headed off into the dusk sporting their bright pink Sew Expo shopping bags, and their rolling suitcases, groaning with new treasures, and their heads swimming from the classes they had taken.

Substance of the Day

There is no way I can capture all of the conversation that happened over those six hours. Instead, I am including some of the points from my original Open Letter to Vogue Patterns with a summary of what we discussed.

Offer more designer patterns.
They have been really trying to do this. They have a couple new designers that may be coming on board soon. But this is very difficult, very slow, process. Carolyne told me that for every 10 designers that she contacts, she might hear back from one. And many established design houses are owned by large corporations that are simply not interested. (This is a big change from back in the 50s when design houses were more independent.)

What about new, up-and-coming designers, like those who participate in the CFDA Fashion Fund (spearheaded by Anna Wintour of Vogue), and who are hungry for exposure? In fact, that has been one of the avenues that they are pursuing.

Perhaps you can help.

Update the fit of their sloper.
This was a very interesting discussion and I felt that we could have explored it further. They told me that, at one time, there was fairly consistent sizing between the brands. Vogue was consistent within Vogue, McCalls with consistent within McCalls, and so on. That has not been true more recently, but they are planning to return to that model.

When I suggested that the fit sloper itself could be updated, there was some confusion. For example, I told them that the fit through the upper torso could be modified to be more like RTW, but we didn't discuss that angle in depth.

We also discussed the issue of pattern grading. I told them that I have been plus sized, and I have been "regular" sized, but my shoulders don't generally widen much based on my weight. And, yet, the larger-sized pattern assumes I have massively wide shoulders. The patterns are drafted for a size 10 and then graded up for larger sizes and down for smaller sizes. There seems to be some bad math involved in the grading. Frank seemed willing to explore this subject further.

I suggested that it would be great if they started a line of patterns, maybe under the McCalls banner, that featured more RTW fit and more RTW detailing, reflecting current styles that can be seen in stores. It could be labeled with a special label, so that consumers would know to expect different fit. If done well, this could be massively popular among a younger demographic.

We also talked about the crotch shape of their pants, which is problematic for many women. There was no clear answer on that one.

This entire topic needs much further discussion. I strongly suggest that you let them know what you want to see. Now is the time for feedback.

Better designs for plus sizes. Enough shapeless sacs.
They have heard this, loud and clear. Very soon they will be bringing back women's sizes (as in 20W, though I don't remember to specific range) to Butterick and McCalls. They have some other exciting developments, but I don't feel it's my place to make announcements.

Oh, I will say they told me they are bringing in more cup sizing. But I have long stated that this does not appeal to me. My bust is bigger, and lower, than what they draft for. It's more work for me to lower a bust point and to widen a dart, than to put one in from scratch. But this may bring joy to some.

Enough with the Very Easy patterns, the repetitive designs, and the "meh" designs.
They have heard this, loud and clear. They assured me that we will be seeing improvement soon. They also told me that the designers now have more time to iterate a collection and have time to include better and more interesting details.


Include the finished pattern measurements on the pattern envelope and in the catalog.
They will be doing this!!!! Very very soon.


Better pattern instructions!
They are very aware of this. I am not sure what they have in mind for this, but it is on their radar. If you have specific suggestions, let them know.

What about a better solution for downloadable patterns?
They were, frankly, dubious about the need for this, believing that most sewers want paper patterns. I agreed that I, as a rule, prefer paper patterns. However, there is a time and a place for downloadable patterns. If you live in another country, for example, and shipping is slow and expensive. If you are in a hurry and want to sew it now. And what about retired patterns? You have to retire a paper pattern eventually, as your stock sells out, but you can make money out of downloadable OOP (Out Of Print) patterns forever.

Just think... instead of people spending all that money on Ebay and Etsy for OOP patterns, they could be giving that money to YOU.

In fact, the second scenario happened to me during the FabricMart competition. I needed a Butterick pattern and had no time to order it, so I went to the BMV site and bought the downloadable pattern. The experience was beyond awful. I planned to write a post about it, but I was rather slammed at the time with the competition itself, and I ran out of steam.

But I had some gripes with the experience:
  • I bought the downloadable pattern through the BMV site and it cost the same as the paper pattern. I resent paying the same given that I have to print it out myself, tape it together, and trace it off.
  • I had to download a third party app to view and print the pattern. It was an atrocious third party app. I resent that the file is only viewable through a proprietary format. It should be PDF.
  • All I wanted from the pattern was the little bolero jacket. However, I had to print out the entire 32 pages, containing ALL views in the pattern, to get the little bolero. If you are going to force me to use an app, then that app should be smart enough to allow me to select ONLY the view that I want. And preferably in the size that I want. But I should then be able to go back and print it off a different size later, or a different view, if I want that. If you force me to use an app, there should be some intelligence built in.
  • By the time I was finished with the process, I was quite frustrated and angry.
The bottom line is that that downloadable patterns are here to stay and a good solution should be available, though I never EVER want them to replace paper patterns, but just to offer an alternative form of distribution. If you agree, let them know.

Bring back junior sizing.
I did not receive a clear answer on this, but they seem to think that their size range is adequate. If you care, let them know.

Better designs for men.
They have already made inroads along these lines. If you want to see specific styles, or designs, let them know.

Most Surprising Factoid

Here is the most surprising factoid I learned all day...

How many employees do you think work for McCalls?

This company prints 6 issues of the Vogue Pattern Magazine each year. I think they have some other publications, as well as the pattern catalogs that go to the brick-and-mortar stores, like JoAnns and Hancocks. They produce four pattern lines, each one multiple times per year. They manufacture (in the U.S.) all of their own pattern lines, plus SEVENTY others. They also oversee manufacture of a line of wallpaper. (Yup, wallpaper.)

They accomplish this with 275 employees.

Yup, 275.

That blows me away.

What YOU Can Do

Things are changing at McCalls:

  • They recently added a Consumer Services person to their staff.
  • They have attended several consumer shows (rather than trade shows) and the executives are manning the booth in order to talk to consumers.
  • At the recent show in Novi, Michigan, they ran consumer focus groups. What they heard is very similar to the content of my "Open Letter to Vogue Patterns" post.
  • At the magazine, Kathy Marrone is soliciting names/votes for the new "Star Blogger" feature. (ahem)

The bottom line is that they really want to hear from YOU, the consumer. They want to know what you want to see, and how to make the product better. So write them letters, send them emails, let them HEAR from you directly!

The other thing you can do is, if you want to see more designer patterns, let Vogue know which designers you'd like to see, but don't stop there. Let the DESIGNER know that you want to see their patterns sold in Vogue Patterns.

Disclaimer #2

Another thing I wanted to clarify: At NO time has anyone at McCalls asked me to write or not to write anything in my blog. Not once. I peppered Mr Rizzo and his team with questions and everyone was very open. Mr Rizzo was personally staffing the floor at the booth, as were all of his executives, and he was happy to talk to anyone and everyone - he is a true people person. I even saw him handle the transaction of a woman buying a pattern, and who had no idea who the heck he was, and he was happy to do it. Mr Rizzo is the kind of guy who opens the door for his companions, and patiently stands there holding the door for 20 more people that he doesn't know.

I spoke to him alone, and with some of his top people, and I spoke to his people without him around. (I spent hours with him and his team and had to be practically ejected from the McCalls booth to visit some of the other booths.)

They are happy, to a person, with the changes that have been happening at McCalls and are happy with the new course of the company. I enjoyed watching all of them tease and "rib" each other good natured-ly. You can see that they like each other. Mr Rizzo has created a very agreeable, even copacetic, work environment. It was very good to see.

(As a side note, I asked them if they minded the nickname of McVoguerick. They laughed and Carolyne said that they sometimes call Frank, "Mr McVoguerick".)

Also, Mr Rizzo did offer me a couple of jobs, but not in a serious, "We want you to come work for us" way. It was more of a light "How about you come do X" and, later, "Hey, do you want to do Y for us?" And, at the end of the day he said, "It's too bad you don't live in NYC and maybe we could entice you."

While I would definitely enjoy working with that team, leaving SF and Google is not really an option for me any time soon.


I had the idea that I would like to interview Frank Rizzo for my blog. In the past, I have interviewed Diane Ericson and Marcy Tilton. I really enjoyed the process and these have been popular blog posts. Frank agreed, so I need to figure out what questions I will be asking him for an upcoming interview. It will take me some time, so stay tuned!

Thank You!

I want to end this post with a huge thank you to Mr Frank Rizzo, Kathy Wiktor (who handled all of the arrangements), and the other good folks at McCalls. What a treat it was to get a peek at my first Puyallup and what a special way to do it.

Thank you for your openness, your honesty, and some fun and compelling conversation!

It was great to see folks I know at Puyallup, and to meet new folks. I really felt at home at Expo (amongst my "people" - whether they call themselves sewists, sewers, or seamstresses) and I definitely plan to attend this show again.

Puyallup 2014 - WhirlWind Tour

It's 1:30am and I just returned from my one day at Sew Expo in Puyallup. I woke up at 2am (insomnia) and left the house at 4:30am, so it's been a looong day.

I just wanted to check in. I asked folks to say "hello" and so many of you did! It was great to meet everyone!

Luckily, I spent so much time chatting, meeting and greeting, and watching fashion shows, that I didn't leave all of my money there.

But I seemed to misplace most of it at Marcy's booth. ;)

While the Expo was crazy busy and crowded (and, therefore, not everyone's cup of tea), I really liked the show. I only got a taste of it, but I can't see how anyone can return from that event and not want to run full tilt at her sewing machine.

Which is what I plan to do this weekend.

I will absorb the experience and produce a post for you in the next week or so (with photos), but it was a great trip.

And I cannot tell a lie.

I ate the strawberry shortcake.

But... it was peer pressure...

You can't see the three other folks at the table. All from Vogue (yeah, I know it's McCalls), each with a matching treat.